Making Light: Haydn, Musical Camp, and the Long Shadow of German Idealism

Making Light: Haydn, Musical Camp, and the Long Shadow of German Idealism

by Raymond Knapp

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In Making Light Raymond Knapp traces the musical legacy of German Idealism as it led to the declining prestige of composers such as Haydn while influencing the development of American popular music in the nineteenth century. Knapp identifies in Haydn and in early popular American musical cultures such as minstrelsy and operetta a strain of high camp—a mode of engagement that relishes both the superficial and serious aspects of an aesthetic experience—that runs antithetical to German Idealism's musical paradigms. By considering the disservice done to Haydn by German Idealism alongside the emergence of musical camp in American popular music, Knapp outlines a common ground: a humanistically based aesthetic of shared pleasure that points to ways in which camp receptive modes might rejuvenate the original appeal of Haydn's music that has mostly eluded audiences. In so doing, Knapp remaps the historiographical modes and systems of critical evaluation that dominate musicology while troubling the divide between serious and popular music.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822372400
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 02/02/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 408
File size: 34 MB
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About the Author

Raymond Knapp is Professor of Musicology and Academic Associate Dean at the Herb Alpert School of Music at the University of California, Los Angeles, the author of The American Musical and the Performance of Personal Identity, and the coeditor of The Oxford Handbook of the American Musical.

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In an extraordinary moment during the performance of a piano trio at UCLA's Clark Library in April 2001 (part of an international conference on Haydn and Rhetoric), the cellist spontaneously laughed out loud in response to the pianist's droll delivery of a bit of composed abstraction. Although some of those present clearly disapproved of this "extramusical" intrusion, the cellist's apparent lapse in concert decorum seemed eminently understandable to the rest of us. More than that, it seemed very right, given the particular quality of interaction cultivated by this group of performers, who vividly projected a mutually attentive interplay based not only on their embodiment of personae who speak and listen to each other but also on a clear sense that they had taken on these personae so as to speak and listen to each other, as performers. More abstractly, it seemed right because it coincided with a passage in which the mundane realities of music making already intrude — as they are wont to do in Haydn — into the "purely" musical discourse. It was an event that could have happened as it did only with Haydn, and only with performers as attuned to each other as these were — a moment, however unmusical it might have seemed to purists, in which performers, their adopted personae, and Haydn himself shared in equal measure.

In a more ordinary moment during that same conference, a leading Haydn scholar was asked whether he found a specific passage in Haydn funny. After deliberating briefly, he responded by precisely identifying the frequency with which he found it funny. While this response was clearly intended to be humorous, it was uncomfortably unclear where exactly the intended humor lay, whether in the affected precision, in the particular specified ratio (too high? too low?), or in his carefully weighed admission that he, at least sometimes, did indeed find the passage funny, even if his more typical or lasting response was more elevated, more appreciative of "deeper" musical value. What made this moment so ordinary was that something like it might have happened in any discussion by countless musicologists who bring the standards and associated intellectual apparatus of German Idealism to bear on repertories that have little or nothing to do with those traditions. One might thus imagine similarly calculated responses to questions concerning the erotic dimension of much twentieth-century music: Do you find Bolero (or jazz, or Elvis, or the Beatles, or Madonna, or electronic dance music, etc.) sexy? Or, similarly, addressing the social dimension of many popular music traditions: Do you enjoy nightclubs with live jazz (or arena rock concerts, discos, or other venues in which music is performed but is not the only source of pleasure for most of those present)?

While one might well imagine that the impulse to honor Haydn through the scholarly activity of traditional musicology must be, at root, a response to his remarkable ability to create sites of joyous interaction among performers and listeners, little vestige of that joy survives in the rather juiceless fruit that such efforts tend to produce. Thus, the scholarly response to what should be basic questions to anyone working with Haydn — Do you find Haydn funny? How? Why? — spoke directly, and with unwitting pathos, to a peculiar sadness that often hovers over Haydn studies. Wishing sincerely to extend and share this kind of joy in their own work on Haydn, many Haydn scholars seem restrained from doing so by their own idealism, an idealism deriving from German Idealism and expressed, without apparent irony, through a desire to uphold an elevated standard of musical value.

But why is German Idealism the wrong context in which to place Haydn, and how did it come to pass that this context is now central to any developed appreciation of his music? What do humor in Haydn, and sexuality or sociability in twentieth-century US American popular musics, have in common, so as to place them out of the reach of a discipline grounded in the musical sensibilities and value systems fostered by German Idealism? What might we gain from taking different approaches to the study of Haydn and his music, in parallel to ongoing discoveries of alternative approaches to popular music? How might these alternative approaches be grounded, in philosophical terms? And what might these approaches tell us about the contentious questions that have seemed, since the nineteenth century, to have hovered perpetually around US American music more generally?

These are the principal questions I seek to address in this book. My first task will be to articulate as clearly as possible those aspects of German Idealism, and its correlative, the set of doctrines and practices known as "absolute music" (which William Weber terms "musical idealism") that negatively affect the specific context of Haydn reception. As I will argue, this is not an abstract question, but rather one that addresses the precise historical circumstance that brought about Haydn's demotion, beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing even against the grain of the "performance practice" movement of the late twentieth century, from a master composer of the first rank to "Papa Haydn," a venerated fogy who helped make Mozart and Beethoven possible but whose music has not stood the "test of time" as well as theirs. As Bryan Proksch writes, "Seemingly the moment after [Haydn's] burial [in 1809], the musical world set about dismantling his reputation, coining one dismissive cliché after another. 'Roguish,' 'childlike,' 'naïve,' 'old-worldly,' 'dainty,' 'neighborly, and other terms ... characterize Haydn ... as some kind of cockeyed optimist shackled by his prerevolutionary birth and his employment as a naïve wig-wearing servant of the ancient régime." Because it is important that Haydn not simply be seen as a special case, an isolated victim of this line of development — and because what happened to Haydn is directly relevant to many persistent dualities that have bedeviled US American music — I will then draw analogies between Haydn's situation and certain aspects of the flowering and mixed reception of US American popular music beginning in the late nineteenth century and continuing across the twentieth century. As I proceed, I will discuss specific Haydn repertories in which there has been a long-standing but steadily waning interest (mainly the symphonies and string quartets) in order to demonstrate how traditional approaches have missed out on the Haydn that so many performers and audiences (used to) know and love, and I will argue that our musical heritage, and our sense of what is valuable and virtuous in our culture more generally, has been sold short in the process.

While attempting to reclaim Haydn and other musical repertories from German Idealist contexts, however, I am by no means putting aside, in toto, the rich musical legacy and practices that have drawn sustenance from that philosophical, aesthetic, and protonationalist basis. My own musical sensibilities, practices, and scholarly work have taken shape and thrived, in large part, within traditions and in venues that simply could not have existed were it not for German Idealism and its US American derivatives. Much of the music I value, perform, and write about was either born of German Idealism or enjoyed a richly textured rebirth owing to German Idealism, and my devotion to that music has not wavered. True, one of my principal tasks here will be to identify the disservices that German Idealism has done both to those musical practices for which it carries no sympathy and to some dimensions of those practices and repertories it has fostered, when they have seemed at odds with that basis. Moreover, in championing practices marginalized by German Idealism, I have little choice but to oppose its tendency to displace or cast into the margins all other standards of musical value. But mine is a carefully circumscribed opposition, comparable to that of a surgeon who must distinguish carefully between healthy and unhealthy tissue. To the extent that German Idealism has corroded the basis for otherwise healthy musical practices, it deserves to be cut away, but that does not mean that the grounding it provides for its core repertories need be devalued in the process. In any case, the surgery demanded here is in part restorative, involving not only a kind of philosophical amputation but also the functional revival of previously discounted components of human musicking, which may well pose an additional threat to German Idealism and its continuing sway over how music is performed, studied, and valued.


If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate.

This paraphrase of a familiar slogan by an anonymous chemistry student applies with surprising felicity to musical controversies that arose in Europe during the nineteenth century, particularly in the German lands, concerning the nature and understanding of music. According to one way of thinking, which would eventually be identified with the phrase "absolute music," music was fundamentally different from the other arts because it could not depict a readily identifiable subject; this inability was taken to be a defining characteristic of music, and became for some the basis for music's elevation to the purest — and thus highest — of the arts. As persuasively codified in Eduard Hanslick's 1854 monograph Vom Musikalische-Schönen, this solution to the problem of music pursued a process of intellectual distillation, through which "music," conceived in terms of its abstract essence, was separated from its nonessential accretions, such as description and expression. Over time, even those who valued the connection of music to these and similar accretions would largely come to admit that they were, indeed, separate from music; thus, "describing" and "expressing" may be things music could do with varying degrees of success — or seem to do, for the more cautious — but description and expression were not a part of music per se. In the solution of music, description and expression were part of the precipitate; one might choose to stir them back into the solution, but their established separateness would remain ineffably evident, making them seem, to purists, like a foreign substance suspended within an otherwise purely musical fluid.

Music's supposed accretions thus became widely recognized as a kind of noise, against which a variety of filters could be devised as needed, such as a listening strategy focused more on the music than on its potential for "extramusical" interpretation, or a preoccupation with musical forms and processes enforced through established methods of analysis. But not all such filters were solely the province of internalized reception, for music was being separated from the mundane realities of music making in a variety of external ways, as well.

The rise of the public concert as an institution in the nineteenth century, especially in the German lands, was a decisive step in the gradual separation of the audience from the mechanics involved in producing music. One aspect of this separation was primarily intellectual, although it was encouraged by the setting; as music from the past was presented in an atmosphere that increasingly fostered a contemplative, even reverent response, music became detached from its original supporting context and rationale. Individual pieces that survived this process particularly well became part of a musical canon of seemingly autonomous works, each having stood the "test of time" by achieving a continuing vitality independent of its origins. Indeed, such works were prized particularly for their ability to withstand this kind of transplantation, reinforcing the notion that music could be — and, perhaps, should be — abstracted from the specific circumstances and meanings relevant to its inception. Thus, the history of a work, and the "extramusical" content associated with that history, were also part of the precipitate in the solution of music.

And so also, in many ways, was the actual performance of a work. The concert hall separated audience from performers no less than it detached music from its earlier associative meanings. Even more pointedly, Wagner's removal of the orchestra from the audience's view at Bayreuth underscored what was rapidly becoming a guiding principle for nineteenth-century aesthetic sensibilities: however necessary performance might be for bringing music into physical existence, performance as such should not be considered music, and should be filtered out by the purist concerned with the autonomous musical work. Long before Milton Babbitt officially banished audiences from the concerns of the modern composer with his incendiary "Who Cares If You Listen?," performers were as effectively exorcized with an implied "Who cares if we look?," as audiences were encouraged to listen past the performers, to the music itself — a strategy that radio and recordings have since greatly facilitated. In broader terms, and outside a Wagnerian context, a musical work was conceived to an increasing degree over the course of the nineteenth century as essentially independent of a particular performance, despite the potential for a given performance to alter, sometimes radically and permanently, a preexisting conception of the work.

It is difficult in the twenty-first century to reimagine the transactions between composer and performers, and between performers and audience, that would have been taken for granted during the late eighteenth century. Part of the difficulty is that they were taken for granted, and so were not often described in ways immediately meaningful to us. Part of the difficulty also resides in our incapacity fully to imagine an era before the disembodied music of radio and phonograph. Hanslick's theories, which offer oblique theoretical support to the gradual distillation of our musical experiences through these profound changes in the predominant musical venues of the European-based "classical" tradition, have become so entrenched that they have come to represent "common sense." For us in the twenty-first century, the orthodoxy of "absolute" music has isolated the musical work as a singular creation of its composer; performers act either as vessels through which audiences gain seemingly direct access to the composer, or assume the role of preemptive coauthors, exerting their own creative energies and thereby, to some extent, shutting off access to the composer, whose work is treated as the raw materials for something essentially new.

This dichotomous situation obscures a potential legitimacy for the performer, once taken for granted, as a genuine participant in a three-way transaction, in which composed work, performer, and audience have independently viable functions. Indeed, in the enshrinement of "the music itself," the audience also fades in importance, reduced to reverent silence and passive contemplation. But the audience retains certain prerogatives, among them the privilege of evaluating the performance and providing its justification. The performer, in contrast, is servant to both composer and audience, and risks censure if s/he calls untoward attention to the performance as such. Although we routinely refer to the "interpretations" offered by specific performers, this is nearly always in reference to an independent conception of the "work," against which a particular performance is to be measured.

More critical even than this public demotion of the performer is the loss of a private transaction between composer and performer. This has become particularly evident in recent decades, when performers routinely execute music of daunting difficulty without really interacting with the work as such, either because individual parts are so demanding that a focused attention to individual execution precludes an acute awareness of the larger effect, or because maintaining a lucid relationship between an individual performing part and the whole is rarely a high priority of the composer. If it is no wonder that performers (especially amateur performers) are generally not enthusiastic about performing new works, enthusiasm among professionals for performing the standard repertory is scarcely any higher. Typically, performances of concert music are tightly controlled by a conductor, who figuratively represents both the composer and the audience, and who is in fact the most privileged audience for the music; in this dual capacity, the conductor exercises preemptive authority over all aspects of performance, ranging from interpretation to evaluation. While orchestral performers can derive significant satisfaction from skillful execution and deserved approbation, and a fair degree of pleasure from contributing to a successful performance, this narrows considerably the spectrum of interactive and aesthetic possibilities latent in the performance of much composed music.


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Table of Contents

List of Musical Examples  ix
Preface  xi
Acknowledgments  xvii
About the Companion Website  xxi
Part I. Approached the Absolute
1. Idealizing Music  3
Part II. Haydn's Difference
2. Entertaining Possibilities in Haydn's Symphonies  53
3. Haydn, the String Quartet, and the (D)evolution of the Chamber Ideal  101
Part III. New World Dualities
4. Popular Music contra German Idealism: Anglo-American Rebellions from Minstrelsy to Camp  137
5. "Popular Music" qua German Idealism: Authenticity and Its Outliers   221
6. Musical Virtues and Vices in the Latter-Day New World  253
Appendix A. More Extended Musical Examples  279
Appendix B. Listing of Video Examples from Films  293
Notes  295
Bibliography  343
Index  367

What People are Saying About This

Programming the Absolute: Nineteenth-Century German Music and the Hermeneutics of the Moment - Berthold Hoeckner

"Making Light is a truly provocative book that offers an astounding assessment of Joseph Haydn's legacy in American musical culture. In a sweeping tour de force, Raymond Knapp draws tantalizing parallels between the composer's enigmatic eccentricity and the critical aspirations of high camp. Rich in analytical and historical detail, this timely study argues that Haydn's humane humor prefigured the rebellious impulses that punctured the prevailing aesthetic pretensions of musical idealism by advocating an Aristotelian sense of human flourishing."

Who Should Sing "Ol' Man River"? The Lives of an American Song - Todd Decker

“In this extraordinary book Raymond Knapp touches on just about every repertory in play in musicology, bringing an increasingly disparate and splintered field into a single conversation firmly focused on what really counts in the study of musical life in American society. Knapp's breathtaking scholarship and cutting-edge arguments are sure to create conversation; he makes you want to talk about his book. Making Light is a stimulating and bracing read.”

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